By CECILE SAN AGUSTIN
CHATHAM - Father Edward Hinds touched many people during his 35 years in priestly life, the last six of which were spent as pastor of St. Patrick Parish here. His brutal murder in the rectory of St. Patrick Church Oct. 22 stunned people in the diocese and across the nation. As parishioners, friends and brother priests mourned his sudden loss, they also remembered him fondly.
When Marie Ryan, consultant for the diocesan Office of Respect Life and a parishioner of St. Patrick's, thinks about Father Edward Hinds, she remembers more than her family's pastor but a dear friend who would stop by and visit.
"He would knock on the door to my home and just say hello," said Ryan, who lives a few houses away from the church. "When he would come into the kitchen, he would open the pots on the stove and say, 'Let's see what you're making today' and have a taste. He became part of our lives and in turned we became part of his."
Michael Brough, parishioner and former chairperson of the pastoral council at St. Patrick's, said, "My wife, three children (all students at St. Patrick's) and I loved Father Ed. He had a vision for the parish and it was wonderful to work with him in bringing that vision to reality. He wanted the parish to have a focus on love for the Eucharist."
Peggy Gentile, pastoral assistant at St. Patrick's, said, "He empowered the staff at St. Patrick's and he had complete faith in us. He always showed concerned about this community and he loved every person here."
Both Brough and Gentile recalled the last time they saw Father Hinds early on the day he was murdered.
"He helped to lead a retreat for the sixth- and seventh-grade students that Thursday (Oct. 22) and he was in wonderful spirits as he enjoyed his time with the children. He preached a message to them about people using their gifts for others. It is such a powerful memory to those children and for those of us who worked for him. That message to get passed on is a wonderful legacy for him as a human being and pastor," said Brough.
Gentile, who now has Father Hinds' dog, Copper, in her care, added, "It was a gift for us and the students to have been with him that day. He was quiet and shy but he was always on top of his game and his faith guided everything he did."
Being among the people was an essential part of Father Hinds' priesthood ministry. Retired Bishop Frank J. Rodimer remembered Father Hinds, who served as his first priest-secretary after he was ordained a bishop in 1978, and said, "It was his own personal preference to serve in the parish ministry. Even though he had advanced degrees in canon law and was trained for administrative work, he wanted to directly work with people."
Father Geno Sylva, diocesan vicar for evangelization, recalled Father Hinds through the children of St. Patrick School. "I remember speaking to children on Friday to share with them what happened to Father Hinds. I asked them to share what they remembered about him and his homilies. What was really special is that they remembered what he said to them. They talked about how he would mention Charlie Brown and he always told them to do the right thing," he said.
His pastoral care to the people of his parish left an indelible impression on Ryan as she recalled Father Hinds' concern for her daughter, who gave birth last April. "My grandson, Colin, was in NICU and he would visit my daughter and him in he hospital. Father Ed was such a great comfort to my daughter. He was so giving in that way," said Ryan.
Sharon Neuner, a parishioner at St. Patrick's, recalled meeting Father Hinds for the first time. "We had just moved to town and really had no close friends," she said. "We joined the parish when I was in the hospital having just delivered our stillborn baby girl Sereana. When I got home, Father Ed was the first person in my house. His compassion and warmth was something I will never forget. He did the memorial Mass and he delivered one of the most beautiful homilies reciting a Welsh poem we now have framed in our home."
John Polanin, parish trustee at St. Patrick's, said his fondest memory of Father Hinds was from the parish picnic this past summer. "It was a beautiful sunny day and the park was filled with people. Father Hinds was wearing a straw hat and sunglasses and was so happy. He skipped around and greeted the people. To me that's what it was all about for Father Ed, being among his people," he said.
Parishioners at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Boonton, where Father Hinds served as pastor before coming to St. Patrick's also remembered him fondly. Louise DiCarlo, parish secretary there, said, "I remember him with the biggest smile, a twinkle in his eye and open arms."
DiCarlo recalled Father Hinds as a "giving person," especially in the wake of a local tragedy years ago, when a fourth-grade boy fell off a dock and drowned in the Rockaway River near the parish.
"Father Ed got down there [to the river] in seconds with the firemen and rescue workers," DiCarlo said. "I remember a photo of Father Ed in a local newspaper with his arm around a fireman. He was down there consoling people, including the family," she said.
Patricia Bartle, who recently retired after serving as diocesan director of worship and spirituality, worked with Father Hinds on the diocesan liturgical commission. "One word to describe him would be authentic," she said. "One virtue would be simplicity. While he was a very learned man, he came across as very caring and compassionate. He was a very close friend to me and he was always a tremendous support even since I had retired in June. He was my wall that I leaned up against whenever I needed someone."
Msgr. Edward Kurtyka, judicial vicar for the diocesan Tribunal and pastor of St. Paul Parish, Prospect Park, said, "He was a very competent canon lawyer. I respected his opinion greatly. You can just see he was very familiar with the law."
Both priests met during their studies in Rome together at the North American College and Msgr. Kurtyka said, "Anytime we needed help in reviewing a case, he was there to help."
Along with his strong education and his desire to serve the people, Father Hinds'
spirituality inspired others to become closer to Christ. Polanin said, "He had this beautiful spirituality centered around the Eucharist. He was always at his happiest when we had a good liturgy and the people were participating."
Bishop Rodimer said, "He made Holy Hour everyday. He seemed to be very happy in his priesthood."
Ryan remembers seeing him simply sitting in a pew with parishioners during a Taize prayer service praying quietly. "He was a spiritual man whose heart was connected deeply with his faith," said Ryan.
Father Hinds continuously reached out to his parishioners and even fellow priests in need. Father Joseph Farias, recently was in residence at St. Patrick's before being named administrator of St. Thomas More Parish, Convent Station, in June. He remembers Father Hinds welcoming him with open arms to live at the rectory without expecting anything in return. Father Farias said, "I was serving as campus minister for nearby colleges and he knew I was looking for a place to live. Father Hinds said, 'Just come.' "
Family was of great importance for Father Hinds. Polanin said, "While he always encouraged us to serve our parish, Father Ed would say to us, 'you got to take care of your family first.' We are all called to ministry but also remember your sacrament of marriage first.' "
Phil Russo, executive secretary for the diocesan Office of Evangelization, said, "When he would come by the offices at the diocesan center, Father Ed always made it a point to ask about my family."
With his own family, Ryan recalls how much Father Hinds missed his parents and his brother, who predeceased him. "While our hearts are broken, we know that he has been reunited with his mother, father and brother," said Ryan.
Fond memories of Father Hinds also live on in the heart and mind of Msgr. Thomas Trapasso, a retired priest, living at Nazareth Village, Chester, who was pastor of St. Michael Parish, Netcong, during the time the late priest served as parochial vicar there from 1985 to 1989.
"Father Hinds was easy going and down to earth. We got along well. The parish accepted him. I had a lot of respect for him," Father Trapasso said. "He was a good homilist. Back then, he was an active young priest, who was right up in front, getting things done."
As the memories and reflections come to the surface, the St. Patrick's community realizes its strength as they come together to continue the work of Father Hinds. Many of the staff at St. Patrick's agreed that Father Hinds always believed the laity was the Church.
Polanin said, "Father Hinds was very supportive in getting the lay people involved in parish ministry and programs. He also encouraged us to take leadership roles within the Church. He preferred to work behind the scenes."
Contributing to this report was Michael Wojcik.